Suffering that Leads to Hope

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Day 8 of my 30-day writing challenge / Summer in the Psalms (sermon series and reflections from Vineyard One NYC, based on the Psalms and linked readings from the Revised Common Lectionary) . 

Read: Matthew 9:35-10:8

 . . . But the one who endures to the end will be saved (v.22).

Reflect

I kind of hate passages like this one in Matthew. They start off great: Jesus healing people and casting out demons, then empowering his disciples to do the same.

But then the other shoe drops. Jesus tells the disciples about the terrible price they will pay for their mission. They’re going to be arrested and beaten, betrayed, hated, and even killed. Their lives will be spent fleeing from town to town, perhaps finding temporary refuge in one or two, before leaving for the next.

Jesus is blunt with his followers about the suffering that they can expect. He doesn’t soften the blow by saying, “Oh, it won’t be so bad.” Instead, he tells them to endure – that they will be rewarded in the end.

I don’t know how Jesus’ disciples took this news, but I think it stinks. If I wanted to go through pain in the moment for the sake of long-term rewards, well, then, I’d . . . exercise.

If I’d heard Jesus’ teaching at the time, I’m pretty sure I’d have been tempted to run screaming in the other direction. Sometimes I still am. Sometimes I wonder why anyone would buy what Jesus is selling here.

There are two main reasons that I’ve learned to reconcile myself with Jesus’ teaching about persecution and pain for the sake of the Gospel. The first is that, without persecution, the Gospel would probably only be known in a small part of the world. When the Christians in the early church faced persecution where they lived, they left for other places. They took their faith in Jesus with them, faith that had been tested and strengthened by fire. That’s how the Good News spread. Does this make it okay that Christians are even now being killed and driven out of their homes in different parts of the world? No, it doesn’t. And I really doubt it helps the people it is actually happening to. But still . . . it tells me, on the basis of factual, recorded history, that the persecution of Christians actually does result in more people knowing who Jesus is.

The second reason is that, while we live on this planet, we are going to suffer. People get sick, lose their jobs, fall pray to accidents and natural disaster, or get hurt by other people who are damaged or infantile or just plain mean. There’s no way to avoid pain, or to choose not to experience it. But each of us can choose to suffer for the sake of Christ, rather than for some other person or cause. We can ask for the grace to see suffering as Jesus did: as redemptive in the end, as bearing fruit in ourselves and in other people, and as motivated by our love for Christ and the people that he gave his life for.

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to pain and persecution. The wisdom and encouragement he shared with the early church in Romans 5:1-5 was hard-won:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The hope we have in Christ is neither facile or naive. It’s not as Karl Marx accused, pain meds for the masses, there to dull our emotions and make us into mindless puppets of a higher power. Instead, it’s the very real, historically demonstrable love of God for us, a love that continues to spread and change the world.

Respond

Pray for Christians who are suffering persecution, whether in small or life-shattering ways. If this describes you, ask someone to pray for you.

Thank God for how he uses even the worst circumstances to bring more and more people into his family. Pray for Christ’s redeeming love to be ever more present in our lives.

 

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